Food and Colour Psychology


Nature has a clever way of giving us food in a rainbow of colours. While we all know how vital it is to intake a variety of differently hued food every day, do you know that colour affects our perception of taste?

‘Colour Trumps Taste’ was the heading of the summary report submitted by Colour expert Kate Smith in a study of colour perception and food. In a similar study published in the Journal of Consumer Research (March 2007), it was stated that consumer product preference is influenced by colour over price or quality.

Colour is often the first element we notice in any food product. Our taste buds play an important role in identifying the core groups of taste, which are sweet, sour, bitter and salty. However before our buds can get a sense of taste, we have already sent signals to our brain to interpret the flavour through our eyes. This predetermines the taste and quality of the food that we are about to eat.

There are some very psychological reasons as to why we use visual cues from colour to identify what we eat. From birth, humans begin to associate various qualities of food with certain colours and use this equation throughout life. For example, we associate red colour with strawberries and cherries which are sweet, in contrast to lemons which are yellow and sour. Green stands for tart flavour as in a kiwi. The freshness or ripeness of food is also determined by its colour. Whenever the colour does not match our equation, we think the food to have a different taste and quality.

In an interesting experiment, published in the Fast Food Nation, subjects were served with a plate of steak and french fries. The food appeared normal under special lights, where in fact the steak was coloured blue and the fries green. The subjects stated that the food tasted good. On turning off the special lights, however, the true colours revealed, many of the subjects lost their appetite and some even became ill.

While we may like to believe that we cannot be easily deceived, our sense of taste is often tricked by our sense of sight. When the colour of the food does not match what we expect it to be, our brain is misled to tell us that it will taste different too. Colour plays an important role in our perception of taste, and there has been extensive research on the subject, and without these visual cues, our taste buds might get confused and not recognize the flavours present.

The Colour Game:

Of all the colours of the spectrum, warm colours like red, orange & yellow evoke the taste buds and stimulate the need to eat. It entices us to eat more. Blue is the most unappetizing of food colours. It is an appetite suppressant. Putting your food on a blue plate, or dyeing the food blue will make the munchies disappear. There is a no natural occurrence of edible blue food, and even the blueberries are more indigo than actual blue. There is no blue foliage or blue meat; in fact, blue is a warning sign for food gone toxic. We just do not have an automatic response to blue.

Nature knows best. Follow what it offers you in the way things are meant to be. Green coloured French fries or a blue salmon anyone? Not what I want to eat. Would you?

Shagufta Patel

With an academic background in Marketing, Shagufta is also an Image Advisor, Life-Skill Coach and a NLP practitioner with a penchant for writing. She intends to add value as part of the marketing team at ICCA and grow through new experiences. As passionate about food as she is about people, she believes that cultures though diverse across the globe; the one thing that holds common for nations and its folks, is that everyone loves a hearty meal prepared with love and care. Food according to her is the melting pot where all differences just vaporise and she is happy to be part of a culinary potpourri.

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